RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There's the holiday movie season in theaters - lush, big, Oscar contenders - and then there's the holiday movie season on your small screen. It certainly boasts a wider variety, though quantity does not always mean quality.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD FOR HALLMARK CHANNEL'S "A BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS")
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: This holiday season...
UNIDENTIFIEDACTOR: (As character) You look beautiful here.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) When you're truly in love, it can make you the happiest you've ever been.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Love is the best Christmas gift of all.
MARTIN: That's the Hallmark Channel original movie "A Bride for Christmas." Of course, there are some great movies to see this season, too, and not just one of the 150 versions of "A Christmas Carol." Now, here at NPR, we take editorial balance very seriously. So we have invited two experts to take on both the high and the low of the holiday season. Linda Holmes is a blogger for Monkey See, NPR's pop culture blog; and Trey Graham is the movies editor for npr.org. Hey, guys.
TREY GRAHAM, BYLINE: Hey.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: OK. So Linda, I want to start with you. I understand you've become a kind of expert on the old Hallmark Christmas film.
HOLMES: I am. I have no idea how this happened. But it's just this entire genre of Christmas kitsch, and I cannot live without it.
MARTIN: And they always have great music, like what we just heard.
HOLMES: Well, they do - and those great voiceovers, like, "Love is the best gift of all."
MARTIN: It is, Linda.
HOLMES: Well, it is, you know. And many of these films, you know, rely on that idea that Santa will bring you love - which is great, if you're single. And you figure online dating didn't work; meeting someone at work didn't work. It's pretty much Santa, or die alone.
MARTIN: OK. Do you have a specific list of these films that we can look forward to?
HOLMES: Well, you'll be able to find them - around the dial - by looking for holiday puns, a lot of the time.
HOLMES: There's one called "All About Christmas Eve." There are...
HOLMES: Right. I don't even know what it's about.
HOLMES: It's about someone named Eve, probably; just like the one that was just on, called "It's Christmas-comma-Carol," was about someone named Carol.
MARTIN: ...named Carol.
HOLMES: Yeah. And for the ones that are a little more bluntly titled, there's always "Matchmaker Santa."
MARTIN: I love it. OK. So Trey, let's bring you into this. We have asked you here to raise the bar a little bit; to give us a sense of some hidden gems. When we're talking about really well-crafted holiday films, is there a kind of formula? Is there something specific that always makes these good?
GRAHAM: It depends on your appetite for sentiment. If you want a big, warm, open-hearted film, you're going to gravitate to a certain kind of thing.
MARTIN: Which I do.
GRAHAM: If you want a more complicated; perhaps a sadder, bittersweet kind of film, you might want to look for things like - "Love Actually" is a great example of this kind of film; really complicated structurally, A-list cast, great acting, terrific writing, good music, lively spirit. And there's a lot of people coming together and finding love, but there's also some really sad storylines.
MARTIN: Are there redeeming qualities, Linda, to the kind of kitsch holiday classic?
HOLMES: Sure. They are a very low-key, sort of holiday-friendly, sit-around-with-family...
HOLMES: ...kind of entertainment. The predictability is kind of a plus-minus, up-down thing. You know you're going to get a happy ending. You know you're going to get a story that's not too taxing. I love a good high-end movie, but I also love something that you just don't have to think about very much, some of the time - and particularly around this time of year, which can be stressful.
MARTIN: It can, a little bit. All right. Bonus points to both of you: Is there a great Hanukkah film, in the high and low category?
HOLMES: You know, I wracked my brain. But in the genre I'm talking about, I could not find one - or think of one.
MARTIN: I can't believe it. There's not some, you know...
GRAHAM: There is, there is...
MARTIN: ..."Maccabees" running around?
GRAHAM: There is a movie called "Maccabees." It's an animated film. I don't know how widely it's been distributed. There is the very special Hanukkah episode of "The Nanny" - from, I believe, Season 6.
GRAHAM: Go chase that down. And I was specifically forbidden, by your producer, from mentioning "Eight Crazy Nights."
GRAHAM: But it is a thing that exists. It is, far and away, not a family movie.
HOLMES: Yeah. If there is...
GRAHAM: Parents, don't show that one to your kids.
HOLMES: ...if there were one in my genre, it would probably be called, like, "It's Your Menorah, Laura," or something like that.
MARTIN: Ooh, that is good. If that doesn't exist, it should.
HOLMES: I was going to say: Call me, ABC Family.
MARTIN: OK. Before I let you go, what is the holiday film you look forward to watching - each and every year?
HOLMES: For all that I like my cheesy, corny, silly ones, I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" just about every year.
MARTIN: Going with the classic choice, OK. Trey.
GRAHAM: I'm going to be a little perverse, and say that the movie I - and this is really true - the movie I watch every year is "The Lion in Winter," which is Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine at the Christmas court at - I believe, Chinon. And they get together and have the most epic squabbles. And my favorite...
MARTIN: This is Katharine Hepburn.
GRAHAM: Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole.
GRAHAM: It is, I believe, the film debut of both Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. And it contains lines like this one:
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LION IN WINTER")
PETER O'TOOLE: (as Henry II) Well, what should we hang - the holly, or each other?
HOLMES: But does it have Santa?
GRAHAM: There is no Santa, I'm afraid.
MARTIN: OK. We will have to leave it there. NPR's Linda Holmes and Trey Graham. You can hear both of them on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, at npr.org. Happy holidays to both of you.
HOLMES: And to you. Thank you.
GRAHAM: Thank you so much for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
A discussion of highbrow holiday movies collides with admissions of gorging on cornball Christmas fare where Santa brings people love and magic happens.
Why yes, this is a promotional image for a real holiday Hallmark movie called Annie Claus Is Comin' To Town. That's Annie Claus, Santa's daughter, inside the snow globe being stared at by her father.
Alexx Henry Studios / Hallmark Channel
My well-documented weird affection for Hallmark movies brings me — along with NPR.org movies editor Trey Graham — to Weekend Edition on Sunday to talk to NPR's Rachel Martin about the high-profile theatrical holiday film as well as the corny basic-cable incarnations that are appropriate to this season.
Trey was in charge of the high parts.
It's my duty, meanwhile, to tell you all about All About Christmas Eve and other punning titles that suggest that you, too, may fall in love with the assistance of Santa Claus. Speaking of which, I must say I'm a little heartbroken that I didn't have time to explain the great moment in Matchmaker Santa where a woman realizes that Santa may be real because he knew the "secret ingredient" she and her mother used to put in their cookies: something called "extract of vanilla bean." EXOTIC! SECRET! HOW DID SANTA KNOW?
I'm not proud of watching these. I just admit it.
Trey brings things up a little bit with the sprawling, excellent cast of Love Actually, a film that brings together that very cast with a mix of happy stories and sad ones. (I know he'd also want me to tell you he's a big fan of last year's Arthur Christmas, even though it doesn't come up in the piece.) And asked what his annual holiday viewing ritual is, he goes with A Lion In Winter, which is about as high as one's brow gets, no?